Volunteering at the Garma Festival was both inspiring and exhausting for Western Chances CEO Rhyll Dorrington.
Run by the Yothu Yindi Foundation (YYF), this unique cultural experience brings together over 2,500 business and industry leaders for the discussion and debate of issues affecting Indigenous Australians. Along with sharing her commitment to helping young people access opportunities, Rhyll loved learning about traditional Aboriginal culture and values, and getting stuck into hard physical work for the event setup. She was also thrilled to bump into some Western Chances supporters at the festival!
A shared mission
Encouraged to attend the four-day Garma Festival in Arnhem Land by her wonderful aunty and Garma regular, Mary Rudd, Rhyll was drawn to a common sense of purpose. She compared the YYF’s goals with those she strives for in Western Chances.
“The mission of YYF is for Yolngu and other Indigenous Australians to have the same level of wellbeing and life opportunities as non-Indigenous Australians. Our organisations are on the similar pages because Western Chances believes all young people deserve the same life opportunities. The young people Western Chances support face financial and sometimes social and cultural barriers and we want to ensure they are given opportunities to thrive.”
An immersive cultural experience
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Garma Festival, held at a significant Gumatj ceremonial site in northeast Arnhem Land from 3 to 6 August 2018. The Garma Festival is like no other, the experience uniquely incorporates visual art, ancient storytelling, dance and music, as well as other important forums and education and training programs relevant to cultural tourism, craft, governance and youth leadership.
As well as her behind the scenes volunteering, Rhyll had the chance to participate in Australian indigenous cultural activities and forums.
“It is difficult to adequately describe my many highlights and learnings from the Garma Festival. I learnt more about the complexity of issues facing our First Nations people and the positive aspects we could take on from their wonderful culture.”
Rhyll’s aunty Mary has worked at Garma for 17 years and she started the pop-up library which contains a wide range of resources including books, essays and videos to educate festival visitors about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and the major challenges they face.
“I loved meeting some of the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land and was amazed and inspired by their visceral connection to the Australian land, sea and sky.”
Participating in local dance was one of Rhyll’s countless highlights.
“The bunggul is one of the most important activities guests can attend at the Garma Festival. It is a uniquely Australian Arnhem Land traditional dance scene and happens each night of Garma. Watching the bunggul is a rare chance to feel some connection to Arnhem Land, its people, its music and its traditions. The stories conveyed through dance and music have been carefully preserved, maintained and handed down over thousands of years. I joined in on the dancing but I looked and felt like a total clutz!”
Endurance, resilience and teamwork
The remote setting took some getting used to with over 2,500 people sharing a couple of toilet and shower blocks. As a member of the volunteer team, Rhyll became an expert tent wrangler, toilet cleaner, marquee erector and dishwasher, amongst many other things! It was ‘in tents’!
“I am well accustomed to working hard whilst sitting at a desk and/attending my scores of Western Chances-related meetings. I am definitely NOT used to working in a physical capacity for 12 days straight in 30 degree heat - it was a major challenge. Supplies were delivered by barge and when the additional tent order missed the barge delivery, it meant we were still erecting tents in the dark as people were arriving at the start of the festival!”
It's that kind of dedication and commitment that makes Rhyll a highly valued team member at Western Chances!
The Garma Festival is a way for the YYF to bring together business leaders, international political leaders, intellectuals, academics and journalists to discuss the most pressing issues facing our oldest living culture. For our Western Chances CEO it was a chance to reflect on the shared mission of helping young people of all cultural backgrounds to access opportunities to follow their dreams and goals. Rhyll was proud to participate in the remarkable Garma Festival, helping create an experience to remember.
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